Anopisthographic Biblia Pauperum

leaf 39 “t” Beatitude and leaf 40 “v” Coronation

blank verso of leaf 40 and leaf 38 “s” Hell

Three leaves from a Biblia pauperum, Schreiber edition X (38-40, .s, t, v.), late 1460s. Hand-colored woodblock prints. Sheet size 27 x 41 cm. GC110 Book Leaves Collection.

Princeton’s historical leaf collection holds three leaves from an edition of the Biblia pauperum, one of the best-known of the fifteenth-century blockbooks. According to Nigel Palmer’s article in the current Journal of the Printing Historical Society (no. 11, 2008, Firestone Z119 .P95613), the Biblia pauperum was “an ensemble of texts and images which narrated the history of man’s redemption from the Annunciation through to the Last Judgement and the coronation of the blessed soul in heaven” represented in 40 plates. During the 1460s, the 40 woodblocks for this volume were recut three times, along with seven intermediate issues in which just some of the blocks were replaced.

Mr. Palmer examined the sheets in Princeton’s collection and wrote that he believed they belong to the edition X, “almost certainly printed in Germany”. Of the known copies of this edition, Palmer identified one in Blackburn, England, originally from Gotha, which lacks these numbers and might be a match for our leaves.

The three leaves shown here are anopisthographic (printed on one side). Two of the sheets have been pasted together to form recto and verso of one sheet. Because there are so few Biblia pauperum surviving in their original structures, it is difficult to be certain about their construction but several editions were sewn into single-quire volumes in chancery folio (approximately 310-20 x 440-50 mm., only slightly larger than Princeton’s sheets).

Blockbooks were made from about 1450 to the 1470s, and Palmer cautions us to regard them as intertwined with all experimentation in printing technology of the period, included single-leaf woodcuts, single-leaf metalcuts, single-leaf engravings, books and single leaves with text printed with moveable type, and books with typographic text and woodcut illustrations.

For a complete reading of the iconography in each plate (in English), see Avril Henry’s Biblia Pauperum Marquand Library Oversize Z241.B6B52 1986Q